Mark Metcalf
Moving Pictures

Coco & Igor

By - Jul 10th, 2010 04:00 am
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Photo courtesy Eurowide Films

In October of 1972,  The New Yorker Magazine published a review of the movie Last Tango In Paris.  The review was written by Pauline Kael.  The movie was written and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and starred Marlon Brando in what may be considered one of his many remarkable incarnations.

Kael’s review is considered by many to be one of the high points of film criticism.  She opens her review by comparing the screening of LTiP to the premiere, in the Paris of 1913, of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps.

Stravinsky’s piece, The Rite of Spring (in translation), literally caused a riot.  In its day is was so profoundly erotic, daringly and violently sexual, that in a city like Paris, that understood and loved the high art of symphonic music and ballet, the patrons stood up, threw their programs at the stage, booed and walked out causing the performance to be halted.  This did not happen when Last Tango in Paris played at the New York Film Festival, but Kael’s point is well made.

In 1972 the Bertolucci film opened a dialogue about the inherent struggle for power in male sexuality and the ultimate dominance of the female in that struggle. It was a dialogue that society found difficult to face and that movies have been trying to reopen ever since.

Now we have Coco & Igor, a film about the sexual struggle between Igor Stravinsky and Coco Chanel that apparently was generated by her being in the audience that night in 1913 when he so offended the world. Coco Chanel was an ambitious woman who had worked her way up from nothing to become a powerful and adamantly independent business woman. Stravinsky was broke, living as an expatriate in Paris with his family, and Chanel offered them rooms in one of her homes. In time they began an affair.

The film is beautiful to look at: the photography, the sets, the wardrobe — all are rich and sumptuous, and the director obviously enjoys living amongst the very well- to-do of Paris between the wars.  The two lead actors, Anna Mouglalis and Mads Mikkelsen, are also great to look at and the sexuality between them is portrayed as very passionate.

But it is like thumbing through a coffee table picture book while waiting for dinner to be served at a rather boring dinner party, attended by people who are more interested in being seen than they are in having conversation.  Nothing happens.

There is a little background on Chanel. None on Stravinsky. He struggles with being a devoted family man and being the lover of one of the most attractive and powerful women in the world at that time.  But the director seems not to be very interested in that struggle, and very little of the architecture of the film is devoted to it.

It is  disappointing because here we have two of the most significant figures of the 20th Century together in the dialogue of love and sex, and two very capable actors, but the room is relatively silent.

Certainly the conversation is neither on the level of either Le Sacre du Printemps or Last Tango in Paris, nor is it even up to Kael’s criticism.  Not that it is fair to measure it against masterpieces, but we must measure works that we see against something: either reality or other works in the genre.

And it is important that we demand more.

I do recommend seeing Coco & Igor for the brief moment of history and because, as I said, it is beautiful to look at and they use several different recordings of the Stravinsky work which are all beautiful, passionate and even ecstatic. It is currently playing at the Oriental Theatre.

Categories: Movies

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